Questions at cornerback and quarterback remained as the Buffalo Bills released five players Saturday to bring their roster down to 50 players.
That total was three under the NFL limit, which means the Bills should have some new bodies in the fold — if not on the field — by the time they reconvene for practice at 4 p.m. today.
The Bills released linebacker Bryan Scott, quarterback Thad Lewis, defensive tackle Torell Troup and defensive ends Jamie Blatnick and Izaan Cross.
The Bills had only two quarterbacks on the roster – rookies EJ Manuel and Jeff Tuel – and four healthy cornerbacks.
Offensive line depth was another uncertainty after Thursday’s exhibition finale. But backup guard Doug Legursky, who hurt his knee in the game, will not need surgery, an apparent stroke of good fortune for the Bills.
The release of Lewis continues the Bills’ QB carousel, coming in the wake of the release of Matt Leinart and the placing of Kevin Kolb on injured reserve. Tuel stands ready to start against New England in the season opener in a week if Manuel is not ready to return from minor knee injury.
With top cornerback Stephon Gilmore out six to eight weeks with a broken wrist, Justin Rogers is the prospective starter opposite Leodis McKelvin. Rogers, a third-year Bill, is a former seventh-round pick who played 49 percent of the snaps last season.
Second-year man Ron Brooks will open the season as the inside corner, covering a slot receiver. It might as well be considered a starting position.
That leaves undrafted rookie Nickell Robey as the only other healthy corner on the team. Robey plays aggressive, but he’s only 5-foot-8. New Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine likes bigger corners, who are better suited to playing man coverage and pressing at the line of scrimmage.
Another thin spot for Buffalo is inside linebacker, where only Arthur Moats remained as a backup behind starters Kiko Alonso and Nigel Bradham.
Scott is a nine-year NFL veteran who had been with Buffalo the last six seasons. He was the third-longest tenured Bill, behind Kyle Williams and Fred Jackson. Scott played 87 games and started 27 for the Bills. He played 54 percent of the defensive snaps last season and was a regular member of the nickel defense for much of his Bills tenure.
Scott’s departure means Bradham would join Alonso as coverage linebackers in the nickel (five-defensive back) defense. The Bills also could work Marcus Dowtin into some of those situations.
After Scott, the next longest tenured Bill to be released Saturday was Troup, the 41st overall pick of the 2010 draft. Troup likely will be most remembered by Bills fans as a guy drafted one pick before New England selected All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The Bills picked Troup with the idea he would anchor the 3-4 defense then-coach Chan Gailey was installing. Troup was hindered by back problems most of his first three seasons, appearing in only 21 games. He finally was healthy this summer but did not do enough to stay on the roster.
The biggest surprise player to stick on the roster so far arguably is outside linebacker Jamaal Westerman, who was signed by the Bills on Aug. 14. Westerman, a strong-side linebacker and edge rusher, played for Pettine with the New York Jets from 2009 to 2011. He played about 39 percent of the Jets’ defensive snaps in 2011 and had 3.5 sacks.
The NFL had a deadline of noon today for teams to claim any player with fewer than four years’ experience who was placed on waivers. Players with four or more years of experience, termed vested veterans, are free to sign with any team when they are released.
Here’s how the Bills’ roster numbers broke down by position Saturday evening:
Quarterback (2), running back (3), fullback (1), offensive line (8), receiver (6), tight end (3), defensive line (6), linebacker (8), cornerback (5), safety (5), special teams (3).